One of the abilities of a good trainer is to be flexible when walking into a session because we never quite know how the client is feeling that day. I may have prepared a heavy day for Jack, an ex-Army Captain, only to flip into my medic’s outfit to perform triage for his chronically cranky back, which caused him to leave the service 5 years ago. Some days are better than others and I can push Jack when he feels good. However, like this past Monday, I have to abandon my pre-planned program for an approach that will help him leave the session feeling better than when he first arrived.
When working in a one-on-one setting, in which a client is entrusting their bodies and [often] psyches with me, I try to bring a blend of confidence and humility in order to adapt to the client’s needs THAT DAY. Yes, I have a long-term direction that I want to take him in and no, I’m not suggesting that I simply abandon a heavy day if a client doesn’t “feel” like it, but if his ability to do daily tasks is compromised (Jack has trouble getting out of bed on bad days), then I shift the emphasis of the session to help bring him pain relief and increased function.
The neat thing about these types of modified sessions is that we can spend time working on aspects of his fitness that we might not normally have time for. When his back is acting up I emphasize stretching, ancillary movements, cardio, stabilization exercises and learning new skills (i.e. moving his body weight in space with control). So, instead of spending most of our hour doing fundamental movements like heavy squats and rows, we might do some challenging bodyweight exercises like Stuart McGill’s hip airplanes (1) or exercises that I devise to promote trunk stability (anti-rotation and anti-flexion specifically). Clients who have been with me longer than one year get the naming rights to one “made up” movement. They usually like to do this and it reinforces that being injured can have some upsides.
In my experience most injured people tend to focus on how their obstacles prevent them from being active but I try to show them – mostly based on my own eventful injury history – that there are always things you can do to keep progressing. One vivid example: a long-time female client called me up a few days before our session to cancel because she fell and badly hurt her ankle. I said, “Sorry to hear that Lucy but why can’t we still meet?” She reiterated, like I was slow to catch on, that she had an INJURY. I replied, “OK, but what’s wrong with the rest of you?” Lucy acquiesced and became quite surprised at how much we were able to do during our subsequent sessions with some creativity and adaptive exercises.
If you are dealing with a temporary or chronic injury try to think of it as an invitation, rather than a limitation, to create new exercises and to focus on areas that are less commonly addressed in your regular workouts. Inevitably, you will use your body differently, creating new challenges for your body and brain. These changes might help carry you through the road to recovery and, once healed, will renew your appreciation for what a healthy body can do.
Keep on Movin’
(1) McGill, Stuart. (2004). Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance (3rd ed.). Waterloo, Canada: Backfitpro Inc.